Yeah, so I went to see Rascal Flatts…

Rascal Flatts. The musical act who, until a few short weeks ago, I thought was a rapper

Some rascals. Easily confused.

What do you do when someone offers you a free ticket for a band – the aforementioned Rascal Flatts – you’ve never heard before?  I mean I’ve turned down free tickets before, notably to see The Corrs (after all, I had heard their music) and U2 (well, you know, Bono).  But gigs in America are usually a big event due to the fact that just about any moderately-talented band can attract about half the state to massive venues.

I did a little research. Rascal Flatts are three blokes, play country, have a string of platinum albums and are very popular with the 10-12 year old demographic – High School Musical, Justin Bieber, John Cena, that sort of thing.

Doing some research with Rascal Flatts fans.

And having never even heard a song before I decided to fly blind (deaf?) rather than potentially spoil the surprise and anticipation of hearing the majesty of their music for the first time.

Let’s cut to the chase. It was like a flipping playground there.  Thousands of teen and pre-teen girls confidently strutting around in cowboy boots, with cut-off denim shorts to their pubis and perfect, matching tans that you’d swear came straight from a bottle.  This was in marked contrast to the awkward strut of their male counterparts, desperately trying to put their best foot forward but hamstrung by confused cross-genre  haircuts, acne and an uncertainty as to how far they should push their chest out in order to look manly.

The organisers do attempt to stop underage people drinking by issuing “over 21” wrist bands to anyone with valid ID – and by pricing a pint at $13.  It wasn’t 100% successful as a number of fairly young people looked a little worse for wear; one blonde girl falling on her arse in front of us and getting to her feet with blood pouring down her leg.  But if someone wants booze they’ll get it – and it’s a rite of passage so we should probably let them get it out of their system.

Just a bit more research there.

After several warm up acts, the best of which was the Eli Young Band (a relative assessment), the headliners came out.  Joe Don Rooney, Jay DeMarcus and Gary LeVox (Gerald Wayne Vernon might be the only person in the world whose stage name is worse than his real name) launched in to a short 80 minute set that was everything I expected – a steady string of middle-of-the-road country anthems and ballads.

LeVox was notable for being quite unremarkable – capable voice but little charisma or stage presence (outside of his stout frame).  Rooney was the best thing on the stage and I was only ever interested when he was allowed to let loose and play some lead licks.  If this lot hit the skids then he could be the breakout Robbie Williams of the band.

Of course safe, unit-shifting music like this was never going to be my scene.  They all seem like nice boys, especially Rooney (whose wife is a former Miss Georgia, Miss USA and Playmate of the Year): “We’re Christian men with families and children and with deep faith in God and country”.  And they underlined how thoughtful they are by issuing the honourable trumpet call of “God bless America!” near the end, inadvertently forgetting about blessing the other 6.7 billion people on the planet, a percentage of whom buy their records.

Bland, tedious multi-platinum musicians.  Yep, Rascal Flatts are the Nickelback of country music.


Back in Blackberry

Motorola Atrix. From … Motorola.

Phase Atrix

About 15 months ago I dumped my (small, well-formed but anemic) Blackberry Bold 9700 for the sexy, dual-core world of Android – namely the Motorola Atrix. The Atrix was the most powerful smartphone at the time – two big fat cores (which means it goes fast), lots of RAM, a slick four inch touchscreen, front and back cameras, HSPA+ connection (fake 4G), a finger-print unlock technology (really) and an interesting but expensive “webdock” that allowed you to plug in to a dumb terminal and use as a laptop.

It was hard not to be drawn to all the pizzazz. Android, after all, had an app for everything. And here it was, presented in slick Technicolor and multi-touch. But the love quickly faded as I realised that the handset just did not have any personality. It was to Blackberry what the IBM-compatible was to the Commodore Amiga.

At the same time, I saw the new Blackberry Bold 9900 in the works. It was a throwback to the breakthrough Bold 9000 which meant more screen and physical button real estate. But, in their infernal wisdom, RIM decided to price it high instead of taking what was to become the Microsoft/Nokia approach of almost giving away the Lumia to drive adoption. At $299 on a two-year contract or the usual $600 unlocked, it just wasn’t very compelling.

Windows Phone. Nice but not nice enough.

Windows – A Brief Encounter

In a fit of pique I took a brief jump to Windows Phone as Dell started selling off their Venue Pro handset for $250 unlocked. Impressed and all as i was with the phone – durable, good physical keyboard and surprisingly good virtual one, vibrant screen, fluid OS – the under-developed operating system had too many limitations and half-baked ideas to be ready for prime-time. It did a fair bit but didn’t really excel at anything.

Take Note

Then the Android-powered Galaxy Note hit Europe in late 2011. I imported the 5.3″ behemoth. It was a champion – is a champion. With all things considered, it’s probably the best phone I’ve ever used. Even taking in to account the annoying lag that Android (pre-Jelly Bean) has trademarked, the usability of what was basically a phone-cum-tablet meant it was useful for just about everything. And I’ve happily used it for nine months.

But over the last while I’ve started to assess what I do with my phone versus what I need it to do. I’ve long watched iPad adverts, bemused by the flashy, energetic slide show of tasks that the hardware can do: it can make pie charts, it can read books, watch movies, play games, let you pinch and zoom in on Uranus. But I imagine only a small percentage of people do more than surf and watch the odd film. Indeed, Business Insider’s 2011 survey indicated as much.

A massive Note.

Similarly, I owned a phone that was a mini iPad, albeit one running Android. And it had a surprisingly good little stylus that seamlessly slid in to the bottom of the device. But did I really need all that power and choice in my pocket? Did I need Netflix and Hulu Plus, MyFitnessPal for entering my calories during the day, turn-by-turn navigation, retailer-specific apps, 3D games, Google Earth? Did I need 10-12 different browsers or 100s of themes to make my phone feel unique?

I used them, sure.  But did I need them?

It’s nice to have these options and apps available but not at the expense of what a phone really should be – a solid communication and messaging device. And that’s something that Blackberry does very well without bells and whistles.

After all I’m the guy who owned a Nook Color but “downgraded” to an e-ink Nook Simple Touch because the Color was way too distracting from what it really should be – an e-reader. To coin a cliche, sometimes less is more.

Back in Blackberry

And it was with that context that a Craigslist ad finally brought me together with, not just the Blackberry Bold 9900, but a white one!  And while the Blackberry is “less” in terms of its reach and functionality, I just feel I get a better all round communication solution that still does the essentials.

I’ve got excellent email service, more than adequate Facebook and Twitter apps, Google Voice for international calling, Viber (albeit without calls yet) and WhatsApp for messaging, TuneIn Radio and podcast apps, Google Maps to show me where I am, WordPress for blogging, Starbucks card (still works in spite of the company stopping support) for my caffeine fix, GasBuddy for finding the cheapest petrol, apps to read my RSS feeds and so on.  Beyond that pretty much everything else is a luxury.

The shortcomings are there in the sense that the camera and camcorder are not as advanced as what’s out there and turn-by-turn navigation is not included in Maps. But then again, if I’m in my car then I’ve got my Garmin (which is better than the, frankly, sometimes-mental Google navigation).  The Internet is harder to use on the smaller screen but the browser works well enough. Even on the Galaxy Note, some websites were just annoying to try to navigate so I mainly did simple surfing which the Bold is capable of.

And then there’s the three big home runs.  Firstly, the physical keyboard. A lot of people like touch screen but not me – not until they make touch screens tactile will I feel comfortable on one.  Even with Swype – the best touchscreen keyboard – I still ended up effing up half the stuff I typed.

Secondly, battery life.  After fairly heavy use of the 9900, I’d still go to bed with about 20-30% battery.  My Note was usually down in the single digits if I had the screen on regularly or used GPS for a small amount of time.  Thirdly, it’s a damn good phone with great voice quality.

Sometimes you got to compromise and the Blackberry is a good compromise.


The reaction has been raised eyebrows and exclamations of “Blackberry!?”. And that’s been the fun part.  I’d gladly have the debate with anyone about why the Blackberry does pretty much everything they truly need.

And now I almost feel that moving back to Blackberry is a kind of post-modern thing to do – you know, like vinyl, Atari and Def Leppard.

From Atrix to Dell to Note to Bold